Occupying oneself with busy-ness is something that many people go through, such as those who are grieving or those who are burned out and going through compassion fatigue. Many want to return to the old norm by going back to work and just get busy. Many will say something like, “You know, I’m keeping myself busy. It really helps.” And it’s true. As a form of distraction, busying does help to some extent. In grief, for example, it is one of the things that we recommend to bereaved individuals especially if their grief is overwhelming. Sometimes we might say, “Do a fun project like gardening, or perhaps do an art work.” Distraction has its place.
But unfortunately, we can swing to the extreme with distractions. Instead of creating a balanced approach between feeling our feelings, and getting distracted through something that keeps us busy, we end up using busy-ness as a kind of a drug to numb ourselves from our feelings so that we don’t have to feel anything and become self-aware.
Writer, Wendy Mogel, notes the danger of using busy-ness as way to numb ourselves from pain. She writes:
"Busy-ness is the manic defense against despair. We speed up our lives unintentionally to escape feeling helpless. We’re not afraid of losing time but of having time to reflect. Without the usual distractions and interference, we may have to confront feelings of disappointment, loneliness, frustration, and our fear that we are not strong enough to make changes we need to make.”
So how do we slow down so we can become self-aware? How do we keep our brains from auto-piloting? How can we slow down so that we can take a deep breath and be fully present? How can we slow down so that we can be aware of our conditioned patterns of thinking and doing, so we can make the changes we need to make?
There is an ancient spiritual practice that might be a good antidote to busy-ness. And it might help us slow down. This practice involves walking a labyrinth. The labyrinth is an ancient symbol, an archetype. It is a divine imprint, found in all religious traditions in various forms around the world. If you are not familiar with labyrinths, see this video, and this handy guide on how to walk a labyrinth.
A key principle in a labyrinth walk is to be in the present moment in each step that you take. There are 3 stages: (1) Release, (2) Receive, (3) Return. First, as you walk towards the center of the labyrinth, you release your thoughts and worries - anything that keeps you anxious and afraid. Second, when you arrive at the center of the labyrinth, you receive. At the labyrinth’s center, we may bring up these wonderings: What insights have you gained? Perhaps it is something that you have learned about myself; perhaps a feeling of gratitude or a sense of peace; perhaps a deep sense of connection. Third, as you return and walk back out of the labyrinth, the goal is to integrate (or embody) the gift that you have received in your daily living.
Adapting the Stages to Your Work with Patients
Here’s the cool thing. While it is beneficial to do a meditative walk in a labyrinth, you can still integrate its main principles in your work. When you provide care for a patient, or someone in crisis, we do not have to default busy-ness to pass time with. Instead, we can turn these encounters into opportunities, much like walking a labyrinth.
On your way to see a patient or their family, let that be an opportunity to release your worries, fears and anxieties. Instead of closing yourself in worry or fear, name your intention, and open your heart.
The second stage in walking a labyrinth is arriving at the center to receive. In your work, the labyrinth’s center is your interaction with your patient (and their family). Here you have the opportunity to receive a gift from this interaction even if that interaction might be challenging. After your interaction with you patient, pause. What insights have you learned about yourself? What does your learning from your interaction mean for your daily living? If any, what changes do you need to make in order to thrive and live more fully?
The third stage is to return back to your daily living and integrate that insights that you have learned from your interaction.
Join me in chewing the cud on mindful communication and relationships, self-awareness, spirituality and mythology.